How Artistic Perfection Can Hold You Back

Yesterday, I was randomly thinking about a mass email I had to send at my last 9-5 job. I was on the finance team at an IT company and we were rolling out big changes to our billing system. I wrote an email to inform our clients about the changes–and I proofed the sh*t out of that email. I read it at least 30 times–and then I made my boss read it, and then I read it again.

If you know me at all, you are fully aware I am a worrier. I evaluate every single detail I can about a situation until I am too exhausted to take any sort of action. As I hovered over the send button on this email, my over-analysis paralysis was overwhelming. 

What if there is a typo? Did I screw something up? Is this change going to upset people? Should I word this differently? Is it clear enough? How is this going to bite me in the ass?

All those thoughts, worries, and nervous sweats and so little action. 

This situation is ridiculous. It was a single email with a limited audience–and I was laughing at myself when I remembered how anxious it made me. Right now, you might be wondering how this has anything to do with artistic perfection. Let me tell you, all of the anxious tendencies I had in an office setting transferred perfectly into my art business.

What does mental paralysis by perfection look like as an artist?

You should want to do your best when you work on your passion. It’s reasonable to worry about the quality of what you produce, but there are times when those worries will hold you back. Many many times.

Here are some examples of how how you can be held back:

  • Not moving onto the next work of art because you’re stuck on your current project.
  • Not posting on social media, because you don’t have the right caption, photo, or hashtags.
  • Not updating your following on events, sales, or new art.
  • Not applying for an event, because you don’t think your work is good enough yet.
  • Not connecting with other creators, because you don’t think you’re on their level.
  • Not promoting yourself.
  • Not making business cards.
  • Not pricing your work.
  • Not launching an online store or website.
  • Not accepting compliments.

My inaction often comes from my fear of not doing things the right way. The “perfect” way.

Perfection paralysis is a really simple formula. If you find yourself saying anything like: I can’t do X until I do Y. But Y also comes with it’s own barrier–then you might be trapped.

Like this:

“I can’t create an online store until I take nice photos, and I can’t take nice photos until I find a better camera, and I can’t get a better camera until I sell a piece of art to have the money for new equipment, but I can’t sell a piece of art until I have an online store, and good online stores aren’t free either.”

Perfection paralysis. But think about this for a second–

Perfection is Bullsh*t

Unless you are making bridges, buildings, or medical devices–perfection is a waste of time. Mainly because, perfection is subjective. It’s definition is different for everyone.

The best example for the subjective nature of perfection I can think of involves food. Ever sit down with friends or family for dinner and have one person think a meal is too salty and then someone else liberally add salt to their plate? Perfection is preference.

Redefine Perfection if you are a perfectionist

Are you constantly stuck by your need to keep tweaking a project? Maybe one more brush stroke here, or extra shading there. How much time do you spend evaluating what can be changed on your work? Or how often do you do nothing at all because you think you need different tools to even get started?

Start thinking about perfection as “The best I could do in this situation given my skill set and available resources”.

So if you want to start an online store, evaluate the resources you have available and where your skills are. Only have a smart phone camera and $5 in your checking account? Yeah, you can make a store with that. Sure, it may not fit your vision of perfection–but the goal is to get it done and move forward. End the perfection paralysis.

When you know you can do better, you still need to move onto the next project. You will continue to improve with each project you start and finish. If you never finish your current project and just keep tweaking and tweaking and tweaking and tweaking, you deny yourself the opportunity to improve. If you ignore resources you currently have because you know there are better resources out there that you don’t have access to, you force yourself to stay still. No progress. No forward momentum.

When you are at the end of a project, as yourself: Is this the best you could do with your current skill set and resources?

If yes, it’s perfect–move onto the next project.

No? Well, it’s not perfect, but you should still move onto the next project. Take the lessons you’ve learned from that piece of art and apply it to the next. There comes a time where you have to say “It’s good enough” and hit send.  

Post that imperfect art on social media. Start that online store. Sign the corner of that piece you’ve been stuck on. Make business cards out of cardstock and your crappy printer, or paint a cute social media banner for customers to snap a picture. Do what you can with your current skill set and resources today.

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Does perfection ever hold you back? Do you have any tips for other creators on how to move forward? I’d love to hear from you!

Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every Tuesday (…sometimes Wednesday). And if you’d like to see more content like this in the future, consider becoming a Patron of mine! (See details below.)

-Kelly

Do want to help me create more blog content? I want to keep providing content like this for free, but I need your help. If you enjoy my blog posts and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep helping artists like you. Plus, you get extra little perks!

Further Reading:

How to Feed Off Your Own Creativity

Creativity doesn’t come from nothing. The creative mind requires input to create output. I’ve written about how to find inspiration to create, as well as how to find your style as an artist, and in both posts I encourage artists to look to the outside world for inspiration. It’s an easy place to get the input you need to kick start your creativity, but today I want to talk about how to find inspiration through your own creative world.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with creating through the inspiration you get from the outside world, but when you are dedicated to finding your true voice as an artist and want to push yourself as far as you can, then learning how to feed off your own creativity is a great practice.

Once you take in enough input from the world around you to get a sense of who you are as a creator, it’s time to let that energy build inside of you and see how you can grow in isolation. Like a closed terrarium; you have everything you need to creatively flourish within. If you have studied the masters, learned basic art techniques and the principles of art and design, and have gotten a sense of your art style, then you may be ready to practice your creativity in isolation.

Here’s how you can do it:

1.Disconnect from other creator’s work.

I did this when I needed an art cleanse for my mental health, but this is beneficial even when you are in a healthy mental state. Mute/unfollow other creators on social media. The reason I want you to do this is because we can’t help be influenced by the work we consume. If you want to see how you can feed off your own creativity, you have to stop “eating” other content.

Stop consuming the work of other creators in your field. It doesn’t have to be forever. Maybe it will be for a few weeks or a couple of months. It all depends on how you’re feeling. The point is to make your artistic voice easier to hear.

2.Use what you have available.

If you feel you have taken in enough input from the outside world, then you likely have a crap ton of art supplies at your disposal by now. I want you to use what you currently have before even thinking about stepping into a store or researching new products. Again, like a terrarium, you have all you need around you.

Use the watercolors you have stashed in a drawer. Flip through half used sketch books and repurpose the paper. Try that acrylic set you got for Christmas that you still haven’t opened. There is a lot of creative potential hidden in what we already have. If you feel uninspired, go through the motions anyway. Or-

3.Create using prompts/step out of your comfort zone.

I don’t want you to spend too much time online when trying to feed off your own creativity, but prompts can be a really helpful catalyst. If you have supplies that don’t inspire you, do a quick Google search for creative prompts. Or make your own. The goal is to do something you don’t usually do. Paint a landscape, sit in your living room and draw your surroundings. Use one color and experiment with shadows and highlights. Take what you have around you and look at it with a new perspective. Explore how you can manipulate your current style using different mediums or colors.

Don’t look at how other artists do it. All you need when working from a prompt is text. An idea. Paint a red banana. Can you picture it? That image in your mind is yours to feed off of.

4.Create often and complete the creative cycle.

The creative process is a cycle. The more you can work through that cycle, the more work you can create. Input–>incubation–>creation–>rest. Do this weekly. Do this every day. Do this multiple times a day with small 15 minute prompts. Do this as much as you can. The hard part in the beginning will be finding input in isolation–but it might not be as hard as you think.

Have you ever tried to remake a piece of your art? Can you replicate it exactly? Probably not, unless you are a perfectionist. Even if we make the same exact piece of art every day, there will be changes from piece to piece. Change is inevitable and this works in your favor when feeding off your own creativity. Start with your current art style, make art inspired by that, do it often, and you will inevitably see evolution.

5.Capture even the roughest of ideas.

This can be as simple as capturing ideas in a journal, doing light sketching, collecting sources of inspiration like color swatches or testing new techniques and saving the practice work. You can’t predict when inspiration will strike. When you capture ideas and put them away for a later date, they can act as a starting point for your next work. You can stash them in a drawer for a dull day, or you can start pinning your ideas to a wall and look at them frequently. Or try both and see what works best for you.

Capture all of your ideas. It doesn’t matter how incomplete or rough they are. They can help you later.

6.Lastly, look back at your older work.

To feed off your own creativity, you need to look back at your older creations. When you create often and capture all of your ideas, you are going to have a butt-ton of stuff you can look through to spark new inspiration. Don’t let judgmental thoughts invade this exercise. I don’t care if the work sucked. Look at the techniques you used, the color palette, the subject matter, and more. Pull ideas from the past. Recreate the work with your current skills. Interpret the work and figure out what you were trying to say. Can you refine the message? Do you have a different perspective to approach the work now?

When you look back at older work, you go through a creative recycling process. Old ideas get transformed into something new. If you keep working through the creative process (input–>incubation–>creation–>rest) by only using your own work and ideas from the past as input, you will start to see your voice and style develop even more.

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If you try working through this practice of creativity in isolation and you can’t seem to produce anything–then you may simply need more input from the outside world. There is no wrong way to create. Right now, I try to find about 75% of my creative input within isolation, but I can never completely cut myself off from the outside world. That would be no fun.

So what do you think? Are you ready to try and feed off your own creative energy?

Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you! Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every Tuesday (…sometimes Wednesday). And if you’d like to see more content like this in the future, consider becoming a Patron of mine! (See details below.)

-Kelly

Do want to help me create more blog content? I want to keep providing content like this for free, but I need your help. If you enjoy my blog posts and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep helping artists like you. Plus, you get extra little perks!

Further Reading:

Tips for Framing and Hanging Your Art for Shows

This blog post has been brought to you by an awesome artist asking me questions on Instagram. If you have questions, send them my way. I’m always looking for new blog topics.

The question was about when and how to frame your art in ways that are budget friendly. I’m sure you know, framing costs can get pretty ridiculous. Frames themselves can be overpriced, but paying someone else to cut mat board and professionally frame your work can give you a special kind of sticker shock. If you’re an artist trying to make a living or even just sell your work as a side hustle, it’s hard to stomach the cost of framing all your work.

I’m here to tell you there are cheaper options, and you can break some rules.

(*Recommended product links contained in this post are affiliate links for Amazon or Dick Blick and I will earn a commission if you make a purchase at no additional cost to you. These commissions help fund more content like this, so thanks!)

Is there a “right” way to display your work?

When it comes to displaying your work, people can get pretty opinionated. I had a man tell me that every work of art needs to be framed. Even a gallery profile canvas. Art looks better in a frame (He was a framer so clearly he had a bias, and no I didn’t take his advice.)

When I’m preparing for an art show, I no longer think about the “right” way of doing things. I’m pragmatic and I just want to get my work on the wall without wasting money.

There are four things that I pay attention to when it comes to hanging my work at events and galleries:

  1. Is the art protected from people and the elements? (Varnish, resin, plastic packaging, glass, UV protection, etc.)
  2. Does the art look good while displayed?
  3. Does the display method fit into the surrounding environment? (Frames for galleries, plastic packaging for fairs, etc.)
  4. Is the art safe and secure? (Is it going to fall off a wall?)

If the way you choose to display your work answers yes to all four, then I wouldn’t stress too much about doing things the “right” way. So let’s get into the basics for displaying art on canvas and art on paper.

Displaying Canvases

I love working with canvases, because I can cut out the need for frames altogether. I choose 3/4″ profile or larger, paint the sides of the canvas, and hang the work on wall. (I use these canvases from Blick.)

When you are preparing your canvases to display, there are a variety of ways you can do it:

  • You can frame thin profile canvases with float frames. (Simply pop the canvas into the frame and hang the frame.)
  • You can hang a canvas without a frame. (My preference.)
  • If your canvas is light enough, 3M Command Strips can make hanging super easy.
    • I hung 3/4″ profile 11″x14″ canvases at my last month long show using two of these strips on each canvas. I’ve also hung 16″x20″ canvases the same way for a three month show. Just check the weight limit for the strips.
  • You can also display canvases on an easel. I use tabletop and floor easels depending on the canvas size.
Preparing Work on Paper

It’s hard to get away from frames when working with paper and displaying at long term shows, but when you are setting up popup events or selling at a craft fair, you can cut some corners.

Here’s how I handle displaying my art on paper.

  • When hanging on walls, frame your work with or without mat board. Mat board can help make your art more attractive and even give it a larger presence.
  • Mount your work on wood or other sturdy surfaces. I’ve seen artists mount their paper work on wood cradle boards and apply varnish or resin as a finish.
  • When displaying at pop up events, you can package your work in plastic sleeves with backing board. This is the cheapest option and makes a piece ready to sell immediately.

Now, here are a bunch of tips to help you avoid spending all your money on framing:

Tip #1: Watch for sales on frames.

Frames aren’t cheap, and paying a professional framer for every piece you create will make your bank account dry heave. When I have paper pieces to frame I watch Michael’s like a hawk to catch their frame sales. They always have sales. Sign up for the email list and just wait. If you’re okay collecting a frame at a time, you can use their 40% and 50% coupons as they become available.

You don’t have to get too fancy with frames. When I had events coming up fast and not a lot of money to prepare, I shopped for photo frames at Walmart and Home Depot. Just choose a cohesive color scheme and save money where you can. It’s also good to keep in mind that your customer might replace the frame if they buy the piece so that it matches their home decor. Just make sure the frame looks good (but if your work is priced really high, choose a higher quality frame to match the higher price).

Tip #2: Go thriftshopping and/or garage saling.

People donate art they don’t like anymore. You can find nice frames for dirt cheap if you have a little patience to hunt for them. You will probably have a lot of mismatched frames when you do this, but you could work that into your aesthetic. (You can also hit the jackpot with large canvases that you can paint over.)

Tip #3: Reuse frames.

If you are displaying at a fair or similar event, indicate that a frame costs extra (or they aren’t for sale) and remove the art (and place in a plastic sleeve) before handing it off to your buyer. You can insert a new piece of art and hang it back on your display wall.

Tip #4: Work with standard paper sizes.

If you are creating art on paper, make life easier and work with standard sizes. When you work with standard sizes (5″x7″, 8″x10″, 11″x14″ etc.) you can easily find frames in stores that come with mat board inserts already cut to these standard sizes. Custom sized work will drive costs up.

You can also get precut matboard if you don’t want to use the cheap mat board that comes with a frame.

Tip #5: Cut your own mat board.

When I first started doing art fairs in 2010, I bought a mat cutter and bulk mat board and matted all my prints and originals myself. Only do this if you are pumping out a lot of work and are good with measurements and sharp blades.

Tip #6: Remember you don’t need to frame everything.

When you plan a display for a fair or popup event, you really just need to display enough work to grab people’s attention. If you have a bunch of work on paper and not enough wall space to display everything, you can protect your work by packaging pieces in clear bags with backing board. When I do events, I will often have a basket of prints and originals next to my display wall that are all packaged nicely so customers can flip through them.

Products I use:

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If you are displaying at a long term gallery, it’s good to make sure your display method matches the professionalism of the space you’re in. If you are setting up a popup event at a local business or casual craft fair, you don’t have to spend a ton to get a display put together. You can choose to forgo frames altogether and just clip your packaged art to a grid wall in these settings.

My personal rule is to spend as little money as I possibly can to put together an attractive display for events. I hope these tips will help you do the same!

Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you! Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every Tuesday (…sometimes Wednesday). And if you’d like to see more content like this in the future, consider becoming a Patron of mine! (See details below.)

-Kelly

Do want to help me create more blog content? I want to keep providing content like this for free, but I need your help. If you enjoy my blog posts and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep helping artists like you. Plus, you get extra little perks!

Further Reading: